JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – It wasn’t the beautiful game, but for Brazil, it was a beautiful result.
But what wasn’t so appealing was what happened in the stands of Ellis Park Stadium, which underwent a massive transformation during the course of a few hours on June 15.
When the referee’s opening whistle sounded, a crowd of 54,331 had created a sea of green and gold that cheered incessantly for the Seleção as if it were playing in Rio de Janeiro.
But as the clock wound down to conclude top-ranked Brazil’s 2-1 victory over 105th-ranked North Korea, the stadium’s atmosphere was no longer so friendly to the Seleção.
The fans that began the chilly night backing Brazil ended the night pulling for the tournament’s biggest underdog playing on soccer’s biggest stage for the first time in 44 years.
“Don't samba in my stadium,” was written on a sign carried by Nux Hoohlo, a South African student. “I actually like Brazilian soccer, but I don't want them to win. It has to be an African team. But today I'm going to root for the samba boys,” he joked.
Brazil, with its record five World Cups and list of legendary players that is as long as Copacabana beach, is one of the most popular teams on the planet.
“I adopted Brazil back in the 1970s. South Africa was under Apartheid and I had no national team to cheer on during the World Cup,” said Joe Omar, a South African businessman, where he works as a businessman. “My country was boycotted by FIFA, and also I did not want to support the regime. Brazil was a choice because they are the best. I want to watch a beautiful game.”
But that’s not what he witnessed. Brazil opened the game playing very sluggishly. The players passed without purpose and when they neared the goal, shot the ball well wide – or well over – the net.
Brazil possessed the ball 64% of the time in the first half, but the game was scoreless after the first 45 minutes. Fans became enamored with North Korea, a 2 ½-goal underdog that wasn’t backing down from the mighty Brazilians.
But that all changed 10 minutes into the second half, when Maicon took a pass from midfielder Kaká along the right wing and delivered a shot on sharp angle past North Korean goalie Ri Myong-Guk. Seventeen minutes later, Brazil struck again, with Elano taking a pass from Robinho and sliding a shot past a diving Myong-Guk for a 2-0 lead.
“I have written my name in the history of the Cup,” said Elano, who turned 29 a day earlier.
North Korea’s Ji-Yun Nam provided some drama when his goal in the 89th minute pulled the Chollima to within 2-1, but it wouldn’t get the equalizer – even with the crowd fully hoping it would get one more past goalie Julio César.